After Mzuvukile Magwaca had been shot in the leg, his femur held in place by shreds of skin, the boxer says he lay on the floor of his home and listened while his assailants debated whether or not to shoot him in the head.
At the time, in 2018, ‘Old Bones’ was just two fights away from a Bantamweight world title, and he was one of Africa’s brightest boxing prospects. Within minutes of arriving home to find intruders there, his career, and possibly his life, seemed over.
But he will make a miraculous comeback on April 21 at Africa Boxing 16 in Johannesburg, his first professional fight in four years. Given his femur was reduced to shrapnel, the fact that he can even walk to the ring, without a limp to boot, is a win.
Magwaca, who was born in East London, South Africa, was in a good place. He was the IBF Bantamweight Intercontinental champion, and his partner had just given birth to their child. Then he arrived home to chaos one night.
“I was [coming home] from the hospital to see my newborn [child]. When I got home, my security gate was open. When I got inside there, I found three guys. One was carrying a big gun and one was carrying knives. They were demanding money and my TV and my clothes, everything,” Magwaca told ESPN.
“I didn’t refuse to give them what they were asking. They took everything that they wanted, all my belongings. Then, they asked for the TV, but unfortunately it was installed at the wall, so they couldn’t remove it.
“On their way out, they decided to shoot me.”
The instant the bullet shattered the bone just above Magwaca’s knee, he braced himself for the ramifications.
“I realised the seriousness of the wound the minute I got shot. The first thing that came into my mind was that my boxing [career] was over.
“It was like I got hit by a truck… the wound was very bad. Remember that the bone was totally broken, so my leg was only holding [together] by skin,” he said.
Then, he lay fully conscious and listened as the robbers deliberated over whether or not to take his life: “I heard their voices, these guys saying, ‘I think we should just finish him; shoot him in his head and get it over with.'”
But instead of shooting him again, they locked him inside the house and stole his car. He screamed for help until his neighbour arrived.
To this day, Magwaca does not know who the robbers were, and no arrests have ever been made.
Although he was fortunate to survive and be treated in Tygerberg Hospital, the trauma of the shooting began to take its toll, and Magwaca turned to alcohol.
“It was a lot of stress and pressure. I was drinking because I didn’t want to think about it,” Magwaca admitted.
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“Seeing people that you were training with and boxing with going to the gym and packing their bags when you can’t go to the gym because you are on crutches… it will hurt you a lot.”
Even as Magwaca re-learned to walk, there were days when it was difficult to find a reason to get out of bed: “[Alcohol was] the only thing that could help me get out of the stress.”
Three years ago, Pride Fighting Academy (PFA) handed him a lifeline, taking him on board as a trainer. At that point, PFA boss Michael Mouneimne had no idea that Magwaca was still capable of boxing, but was in for a shock.
Mouneimne told ESPN: “When he came here, his leg was in pretty bad shape. He had a very bad limp and couldn’t balance well on it, but he’s a tough guy with a hell of a work ethic.
“Even though he would say everything [was] fine, you could tell he was suffering. Once we got to know each other a bit, we got to chat. I saw that there was still that fire for boxing.
“I said, ‘Listen, let’s hit some pads and see what you can do’. We put some gloves on him and started hitting some bags. Every day, we did 15 or 20 minutes.
“Then, eventually, we got to the point where we started sparring and messing around and we were like… we can actually do this again. So, we started chatting to the physios in the gym and Max [Linley] from the Waterfront Physiotherapy Clinic said he would work with him and rehab his leg.
“We got to the point where he started sparring every day, shadow-boxing and moving around. He got better every day.”
It took years of work, but in December 2021 Magwaca fought his first bout since the shooting, beating Nkcubeko Jacob by second-round knockout in an exhibition fight.
Magwaca said of that return to the ring: “I thought I was going to be a bit rusty or something, but I felt good because I did a lot of sparring with the guys at the gym — I worked very, very hard for that fight. I went there and I was ok. I was not nervous… maybe just a bit nervous, but I was not ring-rusty.”
As he gears up for his professional comeback, against Sanele Maduna on Thursday, Magwaca insists that he has put his past behind him, despite not having had the help of a psychologist.
“Honestly speaking, I’m not feeling angry at all now. I’m looking forward. I am looking forward to what is going to happen in the future. I’m not feeling angry about anything,” Magwaca said.
“I’m not feeling angry about the guys who shot me. I don’t know if they’re going to get arrested or not, the case just disappeared.
“I counselled myself. I let that thing go and now I’m focused on the future.”
As for whether Magwaca can return to the heights of his career pre-shooting, or whether that’s even important given the astonishing comeback he’s made regardless, Mouneimne is hopeful.
He said: “I think he’s got the fire and the work ethic for it. We haven’t tested his leg in a professional fight, but he’s doing all the rehab and strength and conditioning training. He’s in great shape, he’s been sharp.
“We’ve done everything we can to get him ready for this fight. We’ve taken him to outside gyms to spar where the guys have been pushing him and testing him. He’s coming through the sparring with flying colours, so I don’t see why he wouldn’t do well on his professional debut.
“We’re taking it one fight at a time and we’re not going to look too far ahead, but I think if he does well in this fight and his body holds up, his leg holds up, and he has that fire burning, we’ll look at another one.
“If he gets through this relatively well, I don’t see why he can’t be competitive.”